The Assemblage of the Crystal Sphere: A Dungeons and Dragons Story (Brad Rego, 2008)
There’s kind of a built-in protection The Assemblage of the Crystal Sphere has against my main criticism. To summarize this entire review in two sentences: (a) The Assemblage of the Crystal Sphere is a very vertical-market piece of filmmaking; this is one for the geeks, and pretty much no one else is going to get it. (b) The movie’s subtitle basically assures that no one else is going to be interested, so who cares?
The movie is a mockumentary documenting the final three months of a half-decade-long campaign headed up by Dungeon Master Peter (Michael Coelho in his only screen appearance to date) and played by friends Ed (Frank Lewis), Roger (Robert Collins), Betsy (Jessica Brunelle), and William (Matthew Moniz). (Of the four, only Brunelle and Collins have appeared in front of a camera before, both in Rego’s 2006 short The Vial.) As the group get closer to the final session, tensions within the group erupt. And if the question that’s going through your head is “are the events in the game going to affect the real lives of these players?” instead of “are the events going on in real life going to affect what’s going on in the game?”, then you’re likely watching the wrong movie.
As I noted above, this is one for the geeks. There are a number of gaming scenes (according to IMDB’s trivia section, mostly improvised), and if that’s not something you do, you’re unlikely to see the appeal; at least, that’s been my experience (I’ve been a D&D player on and off since I discovered the game in middle school in the very early eighties). Rego made some attempts to defuse that aspect and appeal to a broader audience with some of the film’s comedy; I’m not sure they worked in that regard, though in most cases they do as comedy. (One of the comedic set-pieces that takes place in the “what happened next?” sequence at the end is the only one that doesn’t work as a comedic set-piece; leaving a couple of minutes of it on the editing room floor would have improved its comedic value tremendously.) But that doesn’t matter as long as you’re a gamer; it is entirely possible that you will see yourself in this, and Rego’s use of non-actors here drives that home even more. Few things detract from the mockumentary feel more than people who are good at making themselves seem like they’re playing a role, but not good enough to get so far into the role that they start portraying the innate awkwardness most people display when they have a camera pointed in their faces. Because of the way the movie is structured, it’s safe, I think, to hazard a guess that most of these folks really are non-actors. The exception is Brunelle. Why I think so: there’s a scene about two-thirds of the way through the movie where Ed and Roger are standing out on the back porch after a gaming session and Betsy comes storming out of the house, gets into her car, and drives off. (We learned a little earlier in the movie that they play in Betsy’s house.) The shots in this sequence give Brunelle a real chance to show off without being flashy, and she nails it. We should be hearing a lot more from her in the future.
The drawbacks I’ve alluded to in various places above. I’m not quite sure Rego knew quite where he wanted to go with this movie—whether he wanted to make a film for the hardcore gamer geeks or try to appeal to a broad audience. As a result, the movie ends up not being a fantastic distillation of either, though it definitely falls hard on the gamer-geek side of the fence. There are also a few pacing problems, mostly towards the end of the film, but nothing huge. If you get it, you will get it. If you don’t, giving this a miss will not adversely affect your life in any way. ** ½